Deep brain stimulation to treat Tourette's tic

Deep brain stimulation operation Electrodes are inserted into the brain through the skull using a local anaesthetic

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A Devon man suffering from Tourette's Syndrome is to undergo a pioneering form of brain surgery.

Mike Sullivan, 32, from Exeter, will have deep brain stimulation to help reduce his involuntary tics.

It sends electrical impulses to control brain activity and has proved effective in treating Parkinson's disease, cluster headaches and depression.

Tourette's is a neurological disorder thought to occur if there is a problem with nerves communicating in the brain.

People suffering from Tourette's usually have both motor and vocal tics.

Mr Sullivan, who was diagnosed with the condition at the age of 12, became the victim of bullying and teasing at school.

He opted for deep brain stimulation after his condition worsened and symptoms became more frequent.

Start Quote

Mike Sullivan

If it improves me even by 5% or 10%, it will make such a massive difference to my quality of life”

End Quote Mike Sullivan

Mr Sullivan said he has to work hard to suppress the almost continual tics while working with the public at Exeter Register Office. He describes this experience as exhausting and mentally draining.

"I can, up to a point, control it... but I'm always looking for a way out if people are staring," he told BBC News.

He has tried a number of different medications. None has relieved his symptoms but many have given him serious and unpleasant side effects.

For deep brain stimulation a local anaesthetic is used and electrodes are put into the brain through the skull.

These are linked to a pacemaker-type battery in the patient's chest then electrical impulses are sent to the brain to block the damaging signals.

Mr Sullivan said he was aware of the risks involved in undergoing brain surgery, but if it led to any improvement in his condition it would be worth it.

'Reasonably safe'

"Whilst I'm scared and it's not something I'd choose to do, it's more than worth the risk," he said.

"If it improves me even by 5% or 10%, it will make such a massive difference to my quality of life."

Doctors at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London are trialling the use of deep brain stimulation to treat not only Tourette's Syndrome, but Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which many Tourette's patients including Mr Sullivan also suffer from.

Only a few procedures have so far been carried out worldwide, but Mr Sullivan has been recommended for treatment by Dr Tim Harrower, a consultant neurologist at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.

"It's reasonably safe, but still I think Mike's being extremely brave to do this because it is pioneering and cutting edge," Dr Harrower said.

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